Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player who ever lived, turns 53 Wednesday. Not only did he win six championships, earn five MVP awards, stomp through 10 (!) scoring titles and crown himself twice in the dunk contest — or be named to 14 All-Star teams and 10 first-team All-NBA squads — but Jordan also transcended how famous a professional athlete can be.
He elevated the entire NBA and propped it on a cloud. He popularized basketball in dozens of countries all over the world, and his last name is recognized and celebrated across cultures and oceans.
Jordan is an icon, and with that we turn to three segments of his career that help explain why we’ll be discussing his greatness as long as balls are bouncing.
The early years of Jordan’s career were defined by his ability to fly. Being that he’s technically human, this superpower was greatly admired by the general public. Jordan defied gravity over and over and over again. He conquered mountains:
He threw it down with either hand and was entirely fearless in his never-ending pursuit to embarrass anyone and everyone who stood in his way.
These were only worth two points, but they symbolize so much more.
2. Getting buckets
The greatest scorer ever? Yes, of course. Jordan ended his career averaging 30.1 points per game, which is the most in history. He dropped 2,313 points in his rookie season, and that led the entire league.
As he neared his 40th birthday, Jordan averaged 21.2 points per game in two seasons with the Washington Wizards. How good is that? Right now, Kawhi Leonard is averaging 20.2.
Jordan was born to score.
1. The most clutch
The coolest moments from Jordan’s career are the precise instances where you can pinpoint when, exactly, he ripped a beating heart from an opposing fan base’s chest. He owned big moments and knocked down too many buzzer-beaters to count.
From "The Shot" over Craig Ehlo and the Cleveland Cavaliers, to "The Push Off" over Bryon Russell and the Utah Jazz, Jordan didn’t back away from a pressure-packed environment, and that single quality is what makes him such an unforgettable legend.